Setting off for a gap year abroad? Check out this guide to staying safe and healthy on your travels - wherever you go in the world.
1. Remember travel insurance
Before you set off, buy travel insurance that covers you for all the activities you plan to do (think mountain biking, paragliding, climbing etc.) in all the countries you want to visit. Remember, most standard policies will only cover you for 31 days, so you may need special gap year cover. A good policy should cover travel cancellation, medical treatment, lost or stolen possessions and emergency repatriation back home. Don’t forget, your insurer will need to know about any pre-existing medical conditions.
2. Take an EHIC to Europe
The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is valid at least until we leave the EU on October 31st, so if you’re travelling within Europe, you’ll need both travel insurance and an EHIC. The EHIC entitles you to basic state medical treatment in Europe, but not to repatriation back to the UK, or to medical treatment at a private hospital - that’s where travel insurance comes in. Many travel insurers will waive the excess payment on a medical claim if you have an EHIC.
3. Get vaccinated
At least 6 weeks before you travel, tell your doctor or travel clinic exactly which countries you’ll be visiting (including the ones you’re just passing through) and organise the appropriate vaccinations and anti-malaria treatment.
4. Be prepared
Check the latest country-specific travel advice from the Foreign Office, at https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice - before you go. And find out as much as possible about the country/ies where you’ll be staying. For instance, how you can avoid cultural gaffes and how you would contact local emergency services. Then, pack light and include a first aid kit with essential medication (take extra, in case your trip ends up being longer than you planned), insect repellent, sunscreen, antiseptic and plasters. Finally, e-mail yourself and a friend or relative copies of your passport, driving licence, travel insurance policy and credit cards, so you have them if you lose the originals.
5. Take care of yourself and your belongings
Keep an eye on your possessions, or they may not be covered by your insurance if they are lost or stolen. Don’t carry around expensive tech or large amounts of cash and make sure bags are zipped up. If you’re in a risky area, use ATMS inside shopping centres or banks and avoid going out alone at night. If you’re mugged, don’t put up a fight - you could be badly injured. Remember too that road traffic accidents cause more injuries than anything else in the developing world. So, stick to licensed taxis, wear a seatbelt and be extra careful when you’re crossing the road - cars won’t necessarily stop for you. And don’t drive at night.
6. Keep the mosquitoes away
If there’s a risk of mosquito-borne diseases, avoid mosquito bites by wearing loose clothes that cover your arms, legs and feet and use a DEET-based insect repellent. If you can, screen your bedroom windows.
7. Watch the food, water and medications
Setting off for the developing world? Tap water and any salad or fruit that’s been washed in water - and even ice cream and ice cubes could give you diarrhea, typhoid or hepatitis. Drink bottled water and stick to piping hot, cooked food. And always use recommended pharmacies for over-the-counter medication such as painkillers - so you’re sure you’ve got what you asked for.
8. Keep cool
Slap on the sunscreen (especially after swimming), wear a hat, and drink plenty of bottled water to stop yourself getting sunburn, heatstroke or dehydration.
9. Don’t drink too much alcohol
Travel insurers don’t usually set specific limits on alcohol consumption, but if you have an accident that’s obviously been caused by excessive drinking, they may not cover the cost of your claim. So, be sensible.